VATICAN CITY, MAR 25, 2005 (VIS) - Cardinal James F. Stafford, major penitentiary, presided in the Pope's name at Good Friday celebrations in St Peter's Basilica. As is customary, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa O.F.M. Cap., pronounced the homily. The ceremony continued with the universal prayer and veneration of the Cross, and concluded with Holy Communion.

The Eucharist, said Fr. Cantalamessa, "is the way Jesus invented to remain forever 'Emmanuel,' God-with-us. This presence is a guarantee, not only for the Church, but for the entire world." The expression "God is with us" is devoid of exclusiveness, he said, because "since Christ has come, there is no longer any exclusiveness, everything has become universal. 'God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself'."

The Eucharist, he said, prolongs the presence of "sweet and gentle" Jesus in history, but "Christ's meekness is no justification for the violence that is done today to His person, and in fact renders it all the more strange and odious."

"Perhaps," he continued, "we ought simply to imitate our Master and say, 'Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.' Forgive them and forgive us, for certainly our own sins, past and present, are also to blame when the name of Christ is held in contempt among the nations."

After expressing thanks to the Pope for "the gift of the year of the Eucharist," and wishing him a prompt recovery, Fr. Cantalamessa concluded: "Come back soon, Holy Father! Easter is not the same without you!"

At 9.15 p.m., the Way of the Cross took place at the Colosseum. For the first time in his pontificate, the Pope was unable to preside at the ceremony, which he followed on television in his private chapel. In images transmitted by the Vatican Television Center, the Holy Father was shown from the back looking towards the altar, before which was a television on which he watched the events.

Cardinal Camillo Runi, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, carried the cross for the first two stations and the last one. For the other stations it was carried by two Franciscans of the Custos of the Holy Land; a religious of the diocese of Dibrugarh, India; a lay woman of the diocese of Chonju, South Korea; a family from Rome; a lay woman of the archdiocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka; an Albanian immigrant family resident in Italy, and a young man from the archdiocese of Khartoum, Sudan.

In a brief message read out by Cardinal Ruini at the start of the Way of the Cross, John Paul II wrote: "I join you in the richly significant invocation: 'Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.' Yes, we adore and bless the mystery of the Cross of the Son of God, because from that death came forth new hope for humanity."

The Holy Father continued: "The adoration of the Cross calls us to a commitment which we cannot avoid: the mission that St. Paul expressed in the words: 'I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.' I too offer my sufferings so God's design will be accomplished and His Word will walk among the people. In turn, I am close to those who are suffering at this time. I pray for each of them."

"On this day, the memorial of the crucified Christ, I look to and adore the Cross with you, and with you I repeat the words of the liturgy: 'O crux, ave spes unica!' Hail, oh Cross, only hope, give us patience and courage and bring peace to the world!"

The central theme of this year's Way of the Cross - written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - came from the words Jesus pronounced on Palm Sunday, immediately prior to His entry into Jerusalem, responding to a request from certain Greeks who desired to see Him: "'Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.' The Lord interprets His entire earthly journey as the story of the grain of wheat, which only though death produces fruit. He interprets His earthly life, death and resurrection in the perspective of the Most Holy Eucharist in which all His mystery comes together."